Archive | May, 2019

Chances Are…You Have Not Seen This Movie

19 May

This post came about because of two specific turns. First, this past April (just last month), I finally seized–reveled in–the opportunity to see Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick’s fabulous re-imagining of William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon, in a theatre on a big screen: a 20th century re-imagining of a 19th century novel written about the 18th century.  Oh sure, I’ve seen it many times on home video (VHS, DVD), but the movie’s allure has always been, even for its detractors, the visual thrill. And what a thrill for Michael and me because I saw it less than a week after having three teeth pulled (including both lower wisdom teeth–with more bruising, btw, than my oral surgeon had ever seen from such a procedure); moreover, the night in question just happened to coincide with a major weather-alert incident with reports forecasting almost nothing but certain doom, regarding treacherous storms with strong winds, hail, and more–to the degree that many local college campuses, including my own, cancelled evening classes and sent students and staff packing by late afternoon. As such, we were faced with the question of whether to take the risk, but I’d already waited over 40 years.  Art won, and the storm blew over pretty much without incident.

Additionally, this past February, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences determined, in its collective wisdom, that Alfonso Cuarón should be awarded this year’s Oscar for Best Cinematography for Roma, a film Cuaron also directed. He also won Best Director, the first time one person has won awards in both categories. Roma stands as only the first Black and White film since 1993’s Schindler’s List to snag the cinematography award. In that case,  many moviegoers well know that Hollywood giant Steven Spielberg directed Schindler’s List, and that he won Best Director while the Academy likewise voted his inspirational, fact-based Holocaust drama the year’s best film. On the other hand, far fewer people likely remember that Janusz Kaminski served as that film’s celebrated cinematographer–or that he returned to the winner’s circle a mere five years later to collect his second trophy for Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

Such is the cinematographer’s life.

Interestingly, if not ironically, more people have seen Roma via streaming platform Netflix than they have seen it on a big screen in a movie theatre. Again, this seems a tad unfortunate, given that by all accounts Cuaron’s images are rich with details, and how can much of that not be lost when the images are shrunk, reduced to fit on a TV screen, per my own experiences with Barry Lyndon, even what passes for most big screen TVs, or, worse, a hand-held device such as a phone or tablet? Of course, I’m sure Academy members saw Roma the way it was intended, per standard regular Academy sponsored screenings during campaign season–or screenings hosted by the film’s producers or distributors. The rest of us have to make do if, that is, we choose to watch. To clarify, the strategy behind Roma was a limited stint in theatres–then direct to streaming, and of course, from an economic standpoint streaming makes sense. Or does it? Really?

Meanwhile, backing up to esteemed Spielberg, the two-time Academy winning director–and Hollywood heavyweight–hopes to redefine, if not restrict, Netflix’s presence at next year’s Oscars, lest the platform service dominate the next round the way it and competitors Amazon Prime and Hulu have established such a foothold among TV’s Emmy awards, per the likes of, say, The Crown (Amazon Prime), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Netflix). Per Spielberg, “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie” (qtd. in Lang, par. 4). He further explains that films need to be given more than cursory Oscar qualifying runs of about a week or so in a handful of theatres before appearing on streaming services (Lang, par. 4). Spielberg is hardly alone in the matter, per similar complaints waged by director Christopher Nolan during the previous go-round, per his stunning war film Dunkirk, which was not only shot on film but also in a widescreen format (see link below).

Back to the Oscars: any live television event presents logistical challenges, and this year’s edition proved especially susceptible. At one point, and who knows if it was the Academy’s board of directors, the ceremony’s production team, or ABC network executives, but someone somewhere hatched the idea that the Best Cinematography award (among a select few other trophies) would be presented off-camera, that is, during commercial breaks. The winner’s speech–including the walk to the stage to accept the award–would be recorded but edited for time considerations and inserted later in the program. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, especially after the likes of Martin Scorsese and a few others raised strenuous objections.

Suddenly, the art of cinematography seems under-valued. What’s up with that? Movies need cinematographers and cinematography as much as, maybe more than, well, maybe we need to go back to the beginning. Anyone reading this blog surely has a solid understanding of cinematography, but let’s backtrack just for grins.

First, what is the literal meaning of the word cinematography? This definition comes from howstuffworks.com:

Basically, cinematography means bringing a story to life visually. The word’s Greek roots are kinema (movement) and graph (writing). Bringing movement to screenwriter’s script requires more than simply shooting photos or video of a scene. The primary cinematographer, or director of photography, works with the film’s director to capture the underlying story in a way that will captivate the movie audience. Camera operators and cinematographers for specific scenes or types of scenes work to fulfill the overall vision.

Furthermore, what does a cinematographer do exactly, and how is that different from a director? This one comes from theartcareerproject.com:

A cinematographer or Director of Photography (DP), is responsible for all the visual elements of a film; in other words, this professional is literally, the eye behind the camera. Under the guidance of the film’s director, the cinematographer makes creative decisions affecting the picture’s lighting, camera motion, shot color, depth of field; as well as scene composition with regards to actor positioning, zoom, lens usage and techniques. A successful cinematographer must be trained and knowledgeable regarding all aspects of photography, including special effects, filmography, modern equipment; as well as possess a marked talent for communication with film directors.

Simply, the director has a vision for a film, and it’s the cinematographer’s duty–in tandem with the art director–to make sure that conditions are optimal for that vision to be translated through the camera lens, necessitating a deep understanding of the interplay between light and shadow. That’s what it’s all about, really.

Now then. The art of cinematography is the art of movies itself, and it’s silly that the Academy would even consider not giving the 5 nominees–and one winner–the very best of the best, per industry professionals, their full respect at the industry’s biggest shindig. Maybe silly, as well, to think that, again, an image on a phone or a tablet reveals anything magical about the art of movies.

Many ardent moviegoers–including those within the Academy’s ranks–often confuse what’s being photographed with the degree of skill involved in the effort to capture an image, or, okay, a moving image. A great many of us respond to breathtaking natural vistas, the sweep of historical epics, or lavish musicals with fabulously colorful production numbers. Need an example? Here’s one: Lawrence of Arabia (1962). How about another? Perhaps Ben-Hur (1959). And don’t forget about the likes of, say, Barry Lyndon (1975), The Last Emperor (1987), Dances with Wolves (1990), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), or La-La Land (2016), among so, so many others [1], such as, okay, The Garden of Allah (1936) and Blood and Sand (1941).

Understood. Even so, the most jaded moviegoers–and don’t you think the Academy’s membership includes more than  a small handful–often confuse what’s being filmed with the  cinematographer’s skill-set, especially as that entails scenic vistas, per the likes of Days of Heaven (1978), The Mission (1986), A River Runs Through It (1992), Legends of the Fall (1994), There Will Be Blood (2007), or The Revenant (2015), and that’s not necessarily accurate [2]. Of course, to be clear, shooting on location, outdoors no less and amid rugged terrain, rates a tremendous challenge for everyone involved. Still, what about the challenge of filming in a confined location and on, say, a tight budget? (Rear Window, anyone?) Sounds easy enough, yet, we should always remember what two former mentors, both now deceased,  told me: movies are moving pictures, motion pictures. Sure, intellectually, I knew that in a literal sense,  but it’s a reminder that movies have to be visually interesting in order to hold audiences’ attention, and superbly executed cinematography is one way to begin.

Back in my theater days, I spent many hours in the box office reading trade publications, such as Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and Film Journal. Back at home, I subscribed to, or regularly purchased, the likes of Premiere, Entertainment Weekly (still do), American Film (published, natch, by the American Film Institute), Film Threat, American Cinematographer (per the American Society of Cinematographers), and Film Comment (via the Film Society of Lincoln Center). It was the latter that ran a feature called the “Cinematographers Roundup,” or something to that effect,  every five years or so, an update of the best and brightest in the biz, the vets as well as the newcomers, and what they’ve done–or had done–lately and how well recent offerings compare to previous efforts, both in terms of prestige (that is, prestigious collaborators) and overall technical quality. In one such roundup, the writer offered guarded praise, but praise nonetheless, for William Fraker, a six time Oscar nominee, and his then recent entry Chances Are, mostly achieving a touch of vintage Hollywood luster, per “a nifty 40s deja vu” (McCarthy 33). I cannot explain why I remember this particular film being singled out in an article I read 25 years ago, but it’s the truth. I guess I remember because I enjoy the movie and have long delighted in its quality of light, for lack of a better term.

Chances Are premiered in 1989, a Tri-Star release directed by the late Emile Ardolino, an Oscar winner for the documentary He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing (1983) who’d just enjoyed a commercial triumph with 1987 breakout hit Dirty Dancing. Scripted by sisters Perry Howze and Randy Howze (Maid to Order [1987], Mystic Pizza [1988]), Chances Are is a comedic reincarnation fantasy on the order of, say, Heaven Can Wait, Warren Beatty’s 1978 smash (with, ahem, Oscar nominated cinematography by no less than William Fraker), itself a remake of 1942’s heralded–Oscar winning–Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Simply, Chances Are begins with the 1963 wedding of Corrine (Cybill Shepherd) and promising lawyer Louie (Christopher McDonald). Fast forward one year as Corrine announces her pregnancy on the same day Louie is hit by a car and dies, leaving the distraught widow–and expectant mother–to turn to Louie’s best friend Philip (Ryan O’Neal), a reporter, for strictly platonic support. Meanwhile, at the heavenly reincarnation station, Louie, so impatient to return, pushes his way to the head of the line (of other potential returnees) and takes off for his next-life, that of newborn, without a crucial injection to wipe his memory. Uh-oh. Could be trouble. Sooner or later. Some 20+ years later, recent Yale grad Alex (Robert Downey Jr.) meets pretty lawyer-to-be Miranda (Mary Stuart Masterson) in the library then bolts for D.C. where he hopes to wow real-life Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (played by venerable Henderson Forsythe [3]). The meeting doesn’t go as Alex had planned, but he makes an impression on Phillip, who takes the young man under his wing. Soon, Phillip brings Alex to dinner at his friend Corrine’s elegant townhouse on a tree lined, brick paved street in Georgetown,. Corrine, now a curator at the Smithsonian, is celebrating the return of her daughter Miranda, home for summer break. Yep, coincidences abound. Suddenly, Alex experiences flashbacks about things he shouldn’t be remembering. And he’s falling in love–with Corrine–all over again.

Chances are you might not have seen this movie, but you might have heard it. Of course, classic crooner–and Texas native–Johnny Mathis is heard singing the familiar title song, credited to Robert Allen and Al Stillman, during the opening credits (and later, “Wonderful Wonderful ” by Sherman Edwards and Ben Raleigh), but there’s more. That keyboard featured in the poster is not a random design element. Piano actually figures in the plot as Louie, Corrine’s long lost love, composes a special tune that is heard throughout in the film and is, in fact, the melody to the Oscar nominated song “After All,” with music by Tony Snow and lyrics by Dean Pitchford, performed by Peter Cetera and Cher at the movie’s conclusion. Though a solid radio-friendly hit, the song lost the Oscar to the deliriously clever “Under the Sea” (The Little Mermaid), per Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and, no, Cetera and Cher did not perform live on the Academy telecast. Instead, James Ingram and Melissa Manchester served as proxies. (IMAGE: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097044/mediaviewer/rm1030348288)

Chances Are is set in and around historic Georgetown with pit stops along the way to such famous Washington D.C. landmarks as the U.S. Capitol building, the Jefferson Memorial, and even exteriors on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institute. Even so, the bulk of the action unfolds within Corrine’s townhome, but make no mistake: while the filmmakers treat viewers to what appear to be scenes staged right outside a real Georgetown home, the interiors–living room, dining room, kitchen, Corrine’s magnificent bedroom quarters–are all shot on soundstages. Make that, extremely well-lit soundstages. As befit the dwellings of a museum curator, let alone someone reluctant to let go of the past, Corrine’s townhouse is richly appointed and perfectly organized. Everything in its rightful place, down to the finest detail. This is where Fraker, in tandem with Art Director Dennis Washington and Set Decorator Robert R. Benton (a previous four time Oscar nominee), achieves the kind of high gloss effect of, say, vintage Ross Hunter, the legendary Hollywood producer known for deluxe romantic melodramas and saucy, crowd pleasing comedies throughout the 1950s and 1960s, per Imitation of Life, Pillow Talk, Midnight Lace [4], Flower Drum Song, and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Corrine has moneyed taste, no doubt, though the allure is not so much about luxurious trappings, nor vibrant Technicolor splashes, but, rather, exquisite lighting. No matter the time of day or night, the rooms are bathed in inviting–and extremely flattering–warmth. Consider the charming breakfast nook with its wide view of Corrine’s picturesque patio. Oh sure, to clarify, it’s easy enough to discern that the magnificent backyard area is actually part of a set, not an actual exterior location, but that’s not the point. The point is the magnificent cheery, sun-dappled lighting effects that spill through the window, making everyone look freshly scrubbed, even airbrushed–while making everything else look sparkling and ready for the pages of a high-tone interior decorating magazine. Furthermore, Ardolino stages a whole backyard cookout on the same spacious, green-filled patio set–and dig how beautifully illuminated the actual real-life street outside the townhouse is in a few select night-time shots.

Fraker’s generosity extends to the slightly Carol Lombardesque Cybill Shepherd, who, again, has been lit and framed as well as any Golden Age Hollywood leading lady. Notice, especially, the silky radiance of her blonde hair, either swept back and contained or soft, loose curls framing her face. Stunning [5]. Of course, backlighting helps. No doubt Fraker employed a specially targeted light source to play up Shepherd’s clear blue eyes: vulnerable to the point of tears in a few sequences, including a Smithsonian ball; elsewhere, alert and ready for adventure when she catches a glimpse of herself in a car mirror.  Oh, and that Smithsonian episode with its tribute to First Ladies even features beautifully lit mannequins, for cryin’ out loud–not to mention Corrine’s stunning midnight colored ballgown designed by Albert Wolsky [6], with its tempting folds–not to mention dynamite fit.

Another standout sequence occurs when O’Neal and Masterson engage in a heart-to-heart during a stroll alongside the National Mall’s reflecting pool. The images are startling clear and bright even though the actors are in motion. Are we to believe Fraker, and Ardolino, achieved this feat using only natural sunlight? Do we understand, intellectually, that a system of lamps and reflectors was utilized to help Mother Nature along? Do we care? This is the way we want D.C., or anywhere, to look when we travel to tourist destinations. But of course.

Realism, it isn’t. It’s the world, a self-contained world, presented in the way that Hollywood knows best–better to nurse the dreams of hopeful moviegoers, generation after generation. Of course, why should we expect realism, or naturalism, in a movie predicated on the super-natural? Nonetheless, while Chances Are received a passel of mostly positive reviews upon release, there were also plenty of sneers. The biggest complaint was that the movie was, well, stupid, and inhabited by resoundingly stupid characters. Indeed, at least one of the high profile cast members (Masterson?) eventually spoke disparagingly about the enterprise, practically apologizing for being involved. Really? This is a comedy about reincarnation, hardly the first, and the rules that apply to more conventional offerings should not be applied. Should they? For example, I don’t recall Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, a major Oscar contender, being similarly scrutinized to the same degree. The characters in Chances Are don’t react stupidly to their circumstances, necessarily; instead, they react like characters in a movie. It’s a conceit, and one decides to either roll with the conceit or not. Same as many Shakespearean comedies. Okay, maybe it’s not as seamless or laugh out-loud hilarious as Heaven Can Wait, but it’s cute and noticeably more sustained than, say, the ill-fated Two of a Kind, which reunited Grease stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton John to less than lukewarm effect.

Even with charges of stupidity and one disgruntled actor, Chances Are boasts a handful of smart, comedic performances, beginning with star Shepherd who was enjoying a career renaissance at the time thanks to the action popularity of Moonlighting, ABC TV’s fun and flirty, witty, wacky retro-ish detective series (again playing up her Lombardesque quality of kooky sophistication), co-starring then up and coming megastar, ever acerbic Bruce Willis. As Corrine, Shepherd’s great. Prim one moment, vulnerable the next. She pulls off a swell transformation as the guarded widow reconnects to her sexuality via the far fetched possibility of being with the reincarnation of her long buried husband, but that’s only half the story. Continuing, Corrine finds herself slowly awakening to the romantic charms of Phillip, the man who’s been there all along, pining in his own non-threatening way–torn between his loyalty for his long departed best friend,  his sense of duty to help take care of fatherless Miranda, and his simmering attraction to Corrine. The turn begins when Shepherd tosses a compliment Phillip’s way, almost as an afterthought, at the Smithsonian gala–and watch O’Neal’s perfect reaction in kind. A bit later, Shepherd conveys a world of emotion  and maybe longing in just a glance during an dinner prepared by O’Neal with Downey as an awkward third wheel. Also, notice how the normally pulled together Corrine becomes disheveled when her real-life and fantasy life collide. She’s come undone, indeed, and Shepherd makes it charming and funny.

The two male leads, Downey and O’Neal, bring a great deal of fun to the proceedings as well. Downey, as Shepherd’s reincarnated hubby, has the showier role. Still in his early 20s at the time, fresh from attracting all kinds of attention from the likes of Weird Science (1985) and Less than Zero (1987), and not quite yet the magnet for scandal and still several comebacks away from reinventing himself as Iron Man [7]), he’s quite beautiful: impossibly thick dark hair, dark eyes, long, lush eyelashes, and a ruddy complexion. Plus, he’s got great timing, and timing is everything in comedy; moreover, he’s got a looseness that at least plays like improvisation in a few key scenes, such as when he tries to explain his situation to Corrine but steers away on a tangent. During the big gala at the Smithsonian, he dances up a storm with a prominent matronly donor. That noted, Downey is at his best when he doesn’t seem to be trying too hard. A little of his mugging goes far, maybe too far. (I never warmed, btw, to Christopher McDonald who plays Louie in the opening sequence.) On the other hand, O’Neal skillfully under-plays, and good for him. Of course, all of us know–from his days working with wunderkind director Peter Bogdanovich on the likes of What’s Up Doc (1972) and Paper Moon (1973), that O’Neal has serious comic chops. Casting him opposite Shepherd, once a tabloid staple per her longtime personal and professional collaboration with Bogdanovich, seems truly inspired (though the truth was much more complicated [Shepherd 150-154, 227]). At any rate, the audience wants to see Corrine and Phillip as played by Shepherd and O’Neal get together and live happily ever after.

For whatever reason, Masterson, who’d recently scored as a major scene stealer in Some Kind of Wonderful (from brand-name teen-magnet writer-producer John Hughes) [8] is about the only principal player who doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself, maybe because less is at stake with her character (maybe it’s the unflattering “grown-up” wardrobe), but the supporting cast is full of winners, beginning with Emmy winner Susan Ruttan (L.A. Law) who pops up for a brief loopy bit as a New Age acolyte–this being the age of the Harmonic Convergence, Shirley MacLaine’s Out on a Limb (delving into exploration of past lives and not-so-subtly referenced in the film), and the surge of interest in the healing properties of crystals–offering momentary support, maybe even insight, to Downey. Elsewhere, venerable character actress Fran Ryan has a game go at portraying a bored but apparently loaded museum patron who suddenly becomes coquettish, falling hard–literally–for Downey’s charms. The great Joe Grifasi appears as Louie’s droll spiritual caseworker, assigned to return to earth and correct a situation that has gotten way out of hand. Add to the mix the one and only Kathleen Freeman (as an officiously cautious Yale librarian), Dennis Patrick (Corrine’s distinguished if bored Smithsonian superior), James Nobel (perhaps best known as Benson‘s Governor Gatling, as Corrine’s bemused analyst), and, again, the Tony winner Henderson Forsythe as Ben Bradlee.

Chances Are was perhaps a middling hit, at best, when it played in theaters back in ’89 even though, again, the critics were generally kind. (Siskel and Ebert both praised it, per the link that follows.) Still, despite its so-so overall box office returns, it fit nicely with a lineup at the old UA Prestonwood that also featured–at the same time–1988 holdover The Accidental Tourist (a Best Picture nominee featuring an Oscar winning turn by Geena Davis) and Cousins (starring by birthday-mate Isabella Rossellini along with Ted Danson). Lots of love, romance. and complications at the suburban multiplex, perfect for the ladies who lunch bunch who flocked to our theater regularly. For director Ardolino, it was a hiccup between strong performers Dirty Dancing (1987) and Sister Act (1992) [9]. Shepherd continued to work steadily, including a stint as a cloyingly insincere TV exec in Woody Allen’s Alice (1990), before hitting the jackpot in TV yet again with her self-titled sitcom, which she helped develop, based on aspects of her own life [10] and a smart showcase for her talent though the show was undone by backstage shenninagans, mostly network interference. She later appeared in several episodes of The L Word and even played lifestyle maven and media mogul Martha Stewart in a pair of made for TV films. Ever resilient, ever indefatigable, she keeps on keepin’ on.

Cinematographer Fraker passed away in 2010 at the age of 86. His last feature film credit was 2002’s Waking up in Reno. A six-time Oscar nominee, he never won the golden statuette though interestingly, he was not even nominated for what might be his most enduring work, 1968’s action classic, Bullitt starring Steve McQueen.

Epic scale pageantry will always play better on the big screen than on a TV, pad, or smart phone, yet Chances Are shows that even a small scale movie can be rich with imagery, such that a big screen still showcases the art of cinematography better than home video though as I learned with Barry Lyndon, sometimes home video is all we have. Until we don’t. Luckily Netflix isn’t the only game in town as more and more theater chains are bringing back classics and near classics for limited engagements. I’m thrilled that I got to see Barry Lyndon in a theatre on a big screen in spite of concerns about wisdom teeth and weather. I loved every millisecond of every passing frame. My next goal is to see Hello Dolly, one of the biggest and brassiest of all big screen musicals, on a giant screen in August. Hmmmm, maybe in another 30-40 years, Roma will finally play in theaters on a bigger than life screen as well.

Now, for your further consideration, I conclude with a piece published by American Society of Cinematographers earlier this year, breaking down milestones of cinematography with more background on the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, Days of Heaven, and, yes, even Barry Lyndon as outlined in this post as well:

https://theasc.com/news/asc-unveils-list-of-100-milestone-films-in-cinematography-of-the-20th-century

Thanks for your consideration….

[1]  – Per the following:  Lawrence of Arabia – Cinematography by Freddie Young; directed by David Lean; Ben-Hur – Cinematography by Robert Surtees; directed by William Wyler; Barry Lyndon – Cinematography by John Alcott; directed by Stanley Kubrick;  The Last Emperor – Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro; Dances with Wolves – Cinematography by Dean Semler; directed by Kevin Costner; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Cinematography by Peter Pau; directed by Ang Lee; and La La Land – Cinematography by Linus Sandgren. Furthermore, despite their exotic locations, The Garden of Allah (Europe and North Africa) and Blood and Sand (Spain) were photographed mostly on Hollywoood backlots with limited location footage outside California: Yuma, Arizona in the case of the former; Mexico City, Mexico, per the latter. Additionally, both films share the rare distinction of double Oscar winning cinematographers. The special honors for The Garden of Allah, when color was still the exception rather than the rule,  were shared by W. Howard Greene and Harold Rosson while Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan both claimed statuettes for Blood and Sand.

[2] – As follows: Days of Heaven – Cinematography by Néstor Almendros; directed by Terrence Malick; The Mission – Cinematography by Chris Menges; directed by Roland Joffé;  A River Runs Through It – Cinematography by Philippe Rousselot; directed by Robert Redford; Legends of the Fall – Cinematography by John Toll; directed by Edward Zwick; There Will Be Blood – Cinematography by Robert Elswit; directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; The Revenant – Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki; directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

[3] – Though Forsythe boasts numerous impressive stage credits, including a Tony for playing the sheriff in the original production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1978), he’s known, or was known, to millions of TV viewers for playing Dr. David Stewart on classic daytime drama As the World Turns for more than 30 years. The actor passed away in 2006 at the age of 88.

[4] As I put the finishing touches on this post, word comes that Doris Day, the iconic superstar of music and films, and star of such Ross Hunter productions as BOTH Pillow Talk and Midnight Lace–as well as The Thrill of it All–has passed away at the age of 97. Day, already a well-regarded Hollywood fixture, began the most successful phase of her movie career with 1959’s Pillow Talk (opposite Rock Hudson), earning her sole Oscar nod and achieving, for the times, a new level of glamour and sophistication (that peaked, to this viewer’s mind with 1962’s That Touch of Mink, opposite Cary Grant, alas, not a Hunter production) ; meanwhile, Hunter’s “brand,” btw, was parodied to lavish effect in 1964’s What a Way to Go, starring Shirley MacLaine.

[5] – Don’t forget that Shepherd famously promoted L’Oreal hair care products both on TV and in print ads for several years until, that is, as she memorably harrumphed in her memoir, “my hair got old” (7), which was merely 40something for cryin’ out loud. Like women over 40 don’t color their hair, L’Oreal? Idiots. I love Shepherd unabashedly, btw. She’s gorgeous, smart, seasoned, flip, and outspoken. My kind of broad. Exactly.

[6] – By that point, Wolsky had already won an Oscar for All That Jazz (1979) and would go on to score a second win for 1991’s Bugsy, among other honors.

[7] – Those comebacks include a well-earned Oscar nod for portraying cinematic genius Charlie Chaplin (in Chaplin, 1992), 1993’s likeable Heart and Souls, a “heavenly” comedy that makes a nice double feature with Chances Are, and for which Downey won a Saturn award, the lead in 1995’s sumptuous, Oscar winning costume romp Restoration, a brief spin in the series Ally McBeal (graced by a Golden Globe, a SAG award, and an Emmy nomination), yet another Oscar nod for a  hilarious if controversial supporting performance (in…black face) in 2008’s outrageous war movie parody Tropic Thunder, same year as Iron Man. His triumph as Iron Man paved the way for the “bro-mantic” Steampunk reinvention of cherished Victorian sleuth Sherlock Holmes (2009) with Downey as the titular Holmes and Jude Law on board as Dr. John Watson.

[8] – While Some Kind of Wonderful was actually directed by Howard Deutch, not Hughes, please note that Hughes, in fact, also wrote and directed Downey’s Weird Science; meanwhile, Masterson surely regained her footing later the same year (1989) by earning Best Supporting Actress accolades from the National Board of Review for Immediate Family (starring Glenn Close and James Woods) even though the Academy couldn’t be bothered. Then, a year or two later, Masterson achieved cinematic immortality as bee charmer extraordinare, Idgie Threadgoode, the thrilling life force of smash hit Fried Green Tomatoes–AND for which she absolutely positively SHOULD HAVE been Oscar nominated instead of, say, Bette Midler’s ludicrous For the Boys.

[9] Ardolino also directed Three Men and a Little Lady, 1990’s so-so follow-up 1987 blockbuster Three Men and a Baby. From Sister Act, he segued to TV, directing Bette Midler as Mama Rose in an acclaimed adaptation of classic Broadway musical Gypsy. Ardolino passed away in 1993, only weeks before Gypsy aired. He was posthumously Emmy and DGA nominated for his work on the TV film.

[10] – In her illustrious career, Shepherd, the Memphis born beauty queen-turned-top model-turned versatile actress and cabaret star, not to mention outspoken feminist and LGBT ally, has staked her claim in a trio of iconic movies, The Last Picture Show (a 1971 Best Picture nominee), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), and Taxi Driver (a 1976 Best Picture contender). She reprised her Last Picture Show role of man-chasing teenager Jacy Farrow in Texasville, some 20 years after the fact–the book of which was dedicated to her by Larry McMurtry who also penned the original. In addition, her work in both Moonlighting and Cybill brought recognition from the likes of the Golden Globes (a total of 6 nominations, 3 wins), the People’s Choice Awards (5 nominations, 2 wins), a SAG nomination,  a Viewers for Quality Television Award, a GLAAD media award, a Golden Apple Award for Female Star of the Year (1996), and 4 Emmy nominations. Nice work if you can get it, indeed, per the same-named George and Ira Gershwin song Shepherd sang during the opening of her sitcom.

Works Cited

McCarthy, Todd.  “The Euro-Wood Look: Speed of Light.” Film Comment. September – October 1989.

Shepherd, Cybill, and Aimee Lee Ball. Cybill Disobedience. Harper Collins, 2000, pp. 7, 150-154, 227.

 

See also:

Brent Lang reporting on Spielberg and Netflix in Variety:

Steven Spielberg vs. Netflix: How Oscars Voters Are Reacting

Chris Nolan on shooting on film and the effect of Netflix:

https://qz.com/1035657/dunkirks-christopher-nolan-imaxs-70mm-film-could-be-cinemas-best-defense-against-netflix/

And https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2018/04/01/christopher-nolan-on-the-romance-of-celluloid-avoiding-social-media-and-making-films-in-trump-era_a_23400324/

On cinematography at How Stuff Works:

https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/cinematographer1.htm

On cinematographers at The Career Project:

https://www.theartcareerproject.com/become/cinematographer/

Siskel and Ebert review Chances Arehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd3JK0Q2yGE

Chances Are review on Roger Ebert’s website: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/chances-are-1989

Cinematographer William A. Fraker at the Internet Movie Database: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005710/

 

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